Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

(8 March 1714, Weimar – 14 December 1788, Hamburg)


C.P.E. Bach was a German musician and composer who lived in the Classical period, the fifth child and second surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach. He was also one of four Bach children to become professional musicians; all four received training in music almost entirely from their father. He could play his father's technically demanding keyboard pieces at sight by the time he was 7 years old.

Carl, like his brothers, pursued advanced studies in jurisprudence at the University of Leipzig (1731). He continued further study of law at Frankfurt (Oder) (1735). In 1738, at the age of 24, he obtained his degree. He turned his attention at once to music. In 1740 he was appointed harpsichordist to Frederick II of Prussia who was in fact a good flutist and so fond of music that he had his court orchestra accompany him in concerti every night except Mondays and Fridays, which were opera nights. He was by this time one of the foremost clavier players in Europe, and his compositions, which date from 1731, include about thirty sonatas and concert pieces for harpsichord and clavichord.

His publication, An Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments was a definitive work on technique. It broke with rigid tradition in allowing, even encouraging the use of the thumbs, and became the standard on finger technique for keyboards. The essay basically lays out the fingering for each chord and some chord sequences. The techniques are largely followed to this day.

In the year of 1746, he was promoted to the post of chamber musician, and served the king alongside colleagues like Carl Heinrich Graun, Johann Joachim Quantz, and Franz Benda. C.P.E. Bach was mostly influenced by his father, Sebastian. His godfather, Georg Philipp Telemann provided creative inspiration as well as Georg Friederic Handel, Carl Heinrich Graun and Joseph Haydn. But he didn't stop at music, his interest in all types of art led to influence from poets, playwrights and philosophers such as Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Moses Mendelssohn and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.

Here he was exposed for the first time to Italian opera seria, which influenced his instrumental music. After Frederick directed his attention to the Seven Years' War, Bach found a select audience for his remarkable and experimental series of keyboard works such as the so-called ”Prussian” and ”Württemberg" sonatas (early 1740s) and the Sonatas with Varied Repeats (1760).

In his Magnificat (1749) and his Easter cantata (1756) one can clearly hear his father's influence. Although his main work was concentrated on the clavier, for which he composed (at that time) nearly 200 sonatas and other solos, he also composed several symphonies and concert works, at least 3 volumes of songs and a few secular cantatas.

Bach finally got himself released from Frederick's service in 1768 in order to succeed Telemann as cantor at the Johanneum in Hamburg, also serving as music director for the city's five major churches; he held this post until his death. He was the master of Empfindsamkeit or ”intimate expressiveness”. The dark, dramatic, improvisation-like passages that appear in some of Mozart's and Haydn's works are due in part to his influence; his music in time became known all over Europe. His impulsive works for solo keyboard, which lurch into unexpected keys, change tempo and dynamics abruptly, and fly along with wide-ranging themes, are especially compelling.

Through the latter half of the 18th century, the reputation of Emanuel Bach stood very high. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart said of him, "He is the father, we are the children." The best part of Joseph Haydn's training was derived from a study of his work. Ludwig van Beethoven expressed for his genius the most cordial admiration and regard. This position he owes mainly to his keyboard sonatas, which mark an important epoch in the history of musical form. Lucid in style, delicate and tender in expression, they are even more notable for the freedom and variety of their structural design; they break away altogether from both the Italian and the Viennese schools, moving instead toward the cyclical and improvisatory forms that would become common several generations later.

In the area of chamber music, Bach pulled the keyboard out of its subsidiary Baroque role and made it a full partner with, or even leader of, the other instruments. Yet here he fashioned the music to the public's conservative expectations, as he did with his church music. He composed prolifically in many genres, and much of his work awaits public rediscovery.

A precious musician who remained successful, C.P.E. Bach was his father's true successor and an important figure in his own right. He also played an important role in the development and crystallization of the bi-thematic sonata and of the symphony genre.

Here  you can find a complete list of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's works.